Aelia Eudocia

Aelia Eudocia

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Aelia Eudocia Augusta was the wife of Theodosius II
Theodosius II
Theodosius II , commonly surnamed Theodosius the Younger, or Theodosius the Calligrapher, was Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. He is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople...

, and a prominent historical figure in understanding the rise of Christianity during the beginning of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

. Eudocia lived in a world where Greek paganism and Christianity were still coming together. Although Eudocia's work has been mostly ignored by modern scholars, her poetry and literary work are great examples of how her Christian faith and Greek upbringing were intertwined, exemplifying a legacy that the Byzantine Empire left behind on the Christian world.

Early life


Aelia Eudocia was born around 400 C.E. in Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 to a philosopher named Leonitios. Leontius taught Rhetoric at the Academy, where people from all over the Mediterranean came to either teach or learn. Eudocia's given name was Athenais, which her parents named her after the city's protector Pallas-Athena. Her father was rich, and had a magnificent house in Acropolis
Acropolis
Acropolis means "high city" in Greek, literally city on the extremity and is usually translated into English as Citadel . For purposes of defense, early people naturally chose elevated ground to build a new settlement, frequently a hill with precipitous sides...

, that had a massive courtyard that young Athenais played in a lot as a child. She had a gift for memorization, and easily learned the poetry of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

, which her father would recite to her.

When she was 12 years old, her mother died and she became her father's comfort, taking on the responsibilities of household chores, raising her siblings and tending to her father. She had two brothers, Gessius
Gessius
Gessius was a politician of the Eastern Roman Empire, brother of the Empress Aelia Eudocia.- Life :Gessius was born in Athens, son of the pagan and sophist philosopher Leontius, and brother of Valerius and Athenais. In 421 Athenais changed her name in Aelia Eudocia and married the Emperor...

 and Valerius
Valerius (consul 432)
Valerius was a politician of the Eastern Roman Empire, brother of the Empress Aelia Eudocia.- Life :Valerius was born in Athens, son of the pagan and sophist philosopher Leontius, and brother of Gessius and Athenais...

, who would later be rewarded in court by their sister and brother in law. In return, her father spent all of his past time devoted to teaching her rhetoric, poetry, and philosophy. He taught her "Socratic Virtue of Knowledge, of moderation", and predicted that she would have a great destiny. His teachings and role as her father did greatly prepare her for her for her destiny. As her father, he was essentially Athenais' everything, and when he passed away in 420, she was devastated. Even more devastating was that in his will, he left all property to her brothers, and left her only a 100 coins, saying that "sufficient for her is her destiny which will be the greatest of any woman". This bothered Athenais even more, and didn’t think it was fair at all. She had been her father's confidante, and expected more than 100 coins. She begged for her brothers to be fair and give her an equal share of the property, but they refused. Athenais had nothing else in the world, other than 100 coins, and everything she knew and loved were gone.

Athenais then went to live with her Aunt, shortly after her father's death at age 20. Her Aunt told her to go to Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 to "ask for justice from the Emperor", that she would receive her fair share of her father's wealth. Her father greatly impacted her, and influenced her literary work later on in life after she became Empress.

Marriage & Life as an Empress


Legend has it that when Theodosius II was 20 years old, he wanted to get married. He talked to his sister Pulcheria, who began to search for a maiden fit for her brother, that was either "patrician or imperial blood." His long time childhood friend Paulinus also helped Theodosius in his search. The Emperor's search had begun fortuitously at the same time that Athenais had arrived in Constantinople. Pulcheria had heard about this young girl, who had only 100 coins to her name, and when she met her she was "astonished at her beauty and at the intelligence and sophistication with which she presented her grievance." Upon reporting back to her brother, she told him she had "found a young girl, a greek maid, very beautiful, pure and dainty, eloquent as well, the daughter of a philosopher," and young Theodosius who was full of desire and lust fell in love instantly.

Athenais had been raised pagan, and had to convert to Christianity in order to marry Theodosius II
Theodosius II
Theodosius II , commonly surnamed Theodosius the Younger, or Theodosius the Calligrapher, was Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. He is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople...

. The Emperor renamed her Eudocia and made her his wife. They were married on June 7, 421 and there were "reports that Theodosius celebrated his wedding with chariot races in the hippodrome." Her brothers, who had rejected her after their father's death, were fearful of the punishment they thought they were going to receive since she became Empress, so they fled. However instead of punishing them, Eudocia called them back to Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, and Theodosius rewarded them. He made Gessius praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...

 of Illycricum and made Valerius master of offices. They were rewarded because Eudocia believed that their mean actions had come from jealousy of her destiny, not from a vengeful dark place. He also honored his best friend, Paulinus with master of offices, for he had helped find his wife. However, this rags to riches story, though it claims to be authentic and is accepted among historians, leads one to believe that tale may have been twisted due to the detail of how the romance was portrayed. The earliest version of this story appeared more than a century after Eudocia's death in the "World Chronicle of John Malalas
John Malalas
John Malalas or Ioannes Malalas was a Greek chronicler from Antioch. Malalas is probably a Syriac word for "rhetor", "orator"; it is first applied to him by John of Damascus .-Life:Malalas was educated in Antioch, and probably was a jurist there, but moved to...

, an author who did not always distinguish between authentic history and a popular memory of events infused with folk-tale motifs." The facts are that she was the daughter of Leonitius and she did originally have the name Athenais, according to the Greek historian Socrates of Constantinople, and a contemporary historian named Priscus of Panion; however they leave out any mention of Pulcheria
Pulcheria
Aelia Pulcheria was the daughter of Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius and Empress Aelia Eudoxia. She was the second child born to Arcadius and Eudoxia. Her oldest sister was Flaccilla born in 397, but is assumed she had died young. Her younger siblings were Theodosius II, the future emperor and...

's role in playing match-maker for her brother. The historians Sozomen
Sozomen
Salminius Hermias Sozomenus was a historian of the Christian church.-Family and Home:He was born around 400 in Bethelia, a small town near Gaza, into a wealthy Christian family of Palestine....

 and Theodoret
Theodoret
Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus was an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria . He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms...

 did not included Eudocia in their history because they were written after Eudocia had fallen into disgrace.

Children


Eudocia had three children with Theodosius II. Licinia Eudoxia
Licinia Eudoxia
Licinia Eudoxia was a Roman Empress, daughter of Eastern Emperor Theodosius II and wife of the Western Emperors Valentinian III and Petronius Maximus.- Family :...

 born in 422, was the oldest. Licinia Eudoxia had been betrothed to her cousin, the western emperor Valentinian III
Valentinian III
-Family:Valentinian was born in the western capital of Ravenna, the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. The former was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, and the latter was at the time Patrician and the power behind the throne....

 since her birth, and did marry on October 29, 437. The second child Flaccilla, died in 431. Arcadius was the only son and died in infancy. It was only a year after she gave birth to her first child, when Eudocia was proclaimed Augusta by her husband on January 2, 423.

Pilgrimage


Upon being named Augusta, she succeeded her sister in law, Pulcheria who had been Augusta since 414. The relationship between the two women consisted of rivalry over power. Eudocia was jealous over the amount of power Pulcheria had within the court, while Pulcheria was jealous of the power Eudocia could claim from her. Their relationship created a "pious atmosphere" in the imperial court, and is probably an explanation as to why Eudocia traveled to the Holy Land in 438. Eudocia went on a pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

 to Jerusalem in 438, bringing back with her holy relics to prove her faith. Her relationship with her husband had deteriorated, and with much plea from Melania, a wealthy widow from Palestine and good friend of Eudocia, Theosodius allowed her to go. On her way to Jerusalem, she stopped in Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

, where "she delivered an encomium
Encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

 of Antioch before the senate of the city, casting it in Homeric hexameters. In it she included the line 'Of your proud line and blood I claim to be.'" Eudocia's original name may have been named after the great city of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, but she was born in Antioch despite what the traditional story may say. Citizens of Antioch received her message with positive attitude, and she influenced them to "erect two statues in her honor, a gold statue in curia and a bronze one in the museum." She even convinced her husband to "extend the walls of Antioch to take in a large suburb." Furthermore, she also influenced state policy towards pagans
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 and Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 under her husband's reign, and used the powerful influence she had to protect them from persecution. Eudocia also advocated for "reorganization and expansion" of education in Constantinople. Eudocia had been raised and educated in traditional and classical sophist education from Athens, but her goal was to blend classical pagan education with Christianity. This was her way of using her power as Empress to honor teachers and education, something that was very important to her in her life.

Banishment


Rumor has it that Eudocia was banished from the court towards the latter part of her life for adultery. Theodosius suspected that she was having an affair with his long time childhood friend, and court advisor Paulinus
Paulinus
Paulinus/Paullinus is a Roman cognomen that can refer to:*Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, general who defeated BoudicaRoman consuls*Marcus Iunius Caesonius Nicomachus Anicius Faustus Paulinus, consul in 298...

. According to Malalas' account of this story, Theodosius II had given Eudocia a very large Phrygia
Phrygia
In antiquity, Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now modern-day Turkey. The Phrygians initially lived in the southern Balkans; according to Herodotus, under the name of Bryges , changing it to Phruges after their final migration to Anatolia, via the...

n apple, as a gift. One day, Paulinius had shown the emperor the same apple, not knowing that the emperor had given it to Eudocia as a gift. He recognized the apple, and confronted Eudocia who had sworn she had eaten it. Eudocia's denials made the emperor believe that she had fallen in love with Paulinus and was having an affair, that she would gave his best friend the same apple he had given her as a symbol of his love. Theodosius had Paulinius executed, and he dismissed Eudocia from the court in 443. She lived the last part of her life in Jerusalem, where she focused on writing her own literature.

Death


Eudocia died on October 20, 460 and was buried in Jerusalem in the Church of St. Stephens. The empress never returned to the imperial court in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, but "she maintained her imperial dignity and engaged in substantial euergetistic programs."

Literary Work


While Eudocia could have written a lot of literature after leaving the Court, only some of her work survived. Eudocia "wrote in hexameters, which is the verse of epic poetry, on Christian themes." She wrote a poem entitled The Martyrdom of St. Cyprian in two books, of which 800 lines survived, and an inscription of a poem on the baths at Hammat Gader. Her most studied piece of literature is her Homeric cento, which has been analyzed recently by a few modern scholars, such as Mark Usher and Brian Sower. Eudocia is an understudied poet and have been neglected due to "lack of complete and authoritative text.”

Martyrdom of St. Cyprian


There are three books, or volumes to this story. Although some of it has been lost, most of it has been paraphrased by Photius. This epic poem tells the story of how "Justa, the Christian virgin, defeated the magician Cyprian through her faith in God. Cyprian had been hired by Aglaidas to force Justa to love him. It ends with the conversation of Cyprian, his swift rise to Bishop, and Justa becoming a deaconess, with the new name, Justina." This story is all fiction, although the parallels between Eudocia's character Justa and Eudocia herself are interesting, as they both converted to Christianity and changed their name upon succession to power. The poem is very long despite not all of it surviving the centuries, and can be found in a copy of Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by I. M. Plant.

The Baths


The poem inscribed on the baths at Hammat Gader in Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 was very short, and can be included here, as evidence of her hexameter writing style. The poem was inscribed so visitors could read as they went into the pool.
: I have seen many wonders in my life, countless,
: But who, noble Clibanus, however many his mouths, could proclaim
: Your might, when born a worthless mortal? But rather
: It is right for you to be called a new fiery ocean,
: Paean and parent, provider of sweet streams.
: From you the thousandfold swell is born, one here, on there,
: On this side boiling-hot, on that side in turn icy-cold and tepid.
: Into fountains four-fold four you pour out your beauty.
: Indian and Matrona, Repentius, holy Elijah,
: Antoninus the Good, Dewy Galatia, and
: Hygieia herself, warm baths both large and small,
: Pearl, ancient Clibanus, Indian and other
: Matrona, Strong, Nun, and the Patriarch's.
: For those in pain your powerful might is always everlasting.
: But I will sing of a god, renowned for wisdom
: For the benefit of speaking mortals.

Homeric Centos


The Homeric centos
CentOS
CentOS is a free operating system based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux . It exists to provide a free enterprise class computing platform and strives to maintain 100% binary compatibility with its upstream distribution...

 that Eudocia wrote is her most popular and most analyzed poem by modern scholars because Homer was a popular choice to write a centos on. Eudocia's particular centos is the longest Homeric cento, and consists of 2,344 lines. This centos is a clear representation of who Eudocia was, and what she believed in. She wrote an epic poem combining her classical Athens educational background by doing a Homeric centos, but adding stories from the book of Genesis and the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 stories of the life of Jesus Christ.

Mark Usher analyzed this poem as a means to understand why Eudocia chose to use Homeric themes as a mean to express her biblical interpretations. According to Usher, Eudocia needed to convey human experience relating to the Bible. She used themes from the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

and Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

because "they contained all Eudocia needed to tell the Gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 story. Whenever and wherever Eudocia needed to express greatness, pain, truthfulness, deceit, beauty, suffering, mourning, recognition, understanding, fear, or astonishment, there was an apt Homeric line or passage ready in her memory to be recalled." Eudocia's Homeric poetry is essential to understanding her as a Christian woman in early Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

, and understanding her role as empress. Her classical educational background is clearly seen in her poetry, which captures her literary talent. She made a point to connect her background love for studying classical Greek literature
Greek literature
Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

, with her Christian beliefs.


Sources

  • Cameron, Averil The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey "Aelia Eudocia (Wife of Theodosius II)," An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, University of Ottawa, http://www.roman-emperors.org/eudocia.htm#N_17_ (accessed on May 2, 2011)
  • Holum, Kenneth G, Theodosian Empresses, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
  • Plant, I. M., Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, London: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
  • Sowers, Brian, "Eudocia: The Making of a Homeric Christian," PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2008.
  • Tsatsos, Jean, Empress Athenais- Eudocia: A Fifth Century Byzantine Empress, Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977.
  • Usher, M. D. "Prolegomenon to the Homeric Centos," Journal of Philology, 118, no. 2 (1997): 305-321
  • Usher, Mark David, Homeric Stitchings, New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.

External links